Political speculation is rife in Maharashtra over the Devendra Fadnavis government’s plan to expand the Cabinet this week. The expansion is likely to take place before 10 July, when the Chief Minister embarks on a Russia tour. The names of both Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena leaders have been doing the rounds of political circles. The smaller allies, too, are likely to get a place in the Cabinet. The BJP leadership had indicated that a Cabinet expansion would happen before the monsoon session of the state legislature, which is slated to begin from 18 July. This leaves the Maharashtra government with the window of only one week before the CM goes abroad.
Although the last week saw immense bickering and infighting between BJP and Shiv Sena, Sena will get its share in the expansion.
On the occasion of Forest Day on Friday, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray sealed the fights with a kiss after they committed to stand by each other. “The tree of our friendship will only flourish,” both the leaders committed at a public function in Mumbai on Friday.
The unexpected show of camaraderie was preceded by nasty bickering between the two parties. Through the beginning of last week, Shiv Sena left no stones unturned in defaming the BJP. The state and national leaders of BJP, including Amit Shah, Madhav Bhandari, Ashish Shelar, were named after famous villains of the film Sholay, and after Maharabharat characters like Shakuni.
After BJP’s Madhav Bhandari wrote in the party’s mouthpiece, likening Uddhav Thackeray to a Sholay character, Shiv Sena launched a scathing reply. In a public protest, the Sena mounted posters of BJP leaders Amit Shah, Madhav Bhandari, Ashish Shelar in Sholay characters, and burnt Shelar’s effigy. Shah’s poster was dressed as Gabbar Singh, while Madhav Bhandari’s posters as Samba and Ashish Shelar as Shakuni, were put up at public places like Churchgate station. Earlier, Bhandari had dared the Shiv Sena to “divorce” the BJP. The comments had irked Sena which has consistently indulged in mudslinging against the BJP.
But the Chief Minister and Uddhav Thackeray decided to draw curtains on the infighting. On the occasion of Forest Day on 1 July, the duo jointly planted trees.
“The plant of our friendship will turn into a giant tree. He has planted the tree, I have put soil on it, and have watered it. It will send out the right signal,” Fadnavis assured. “Wherever need be, I will stand hand in hand with the BJP,” Uddhav said.
The senior leaders have said that the infighting will not affect the Cabinet expansion. Shiv Sena is likely to get two ministerial berths of the rank of Minister of State each. The names that are doing the rounds for the positions are Neelam Gorhe, Sujit Manchekar and Pratap Chikhalikar. The Sena is likely to give weightage to leaders from the rural background and from Marathwada. The party has so far been viewed to be supporting leaders from the coastal belt of Maharashtra (Konkan), and urban areas.